How to Make Practicing Effective When You Are Busy

by Michael Attaway

Originally published to

In our busy lives, do you ever find it difficult to be effective in your practicing?

You’re not alone.  In fact, this issue may big the biggest obstacle that musicians face on a daily basis.  We all understand that you need to practice your instrument to get better, but the problem is that our lives are so busy.


Understanding Habits

To start a discussion on practicing, we really need to talk about habits.  When we practice consistently, it means that we have created the habit to do so.  When we do not have this habit, the likelihood that we will practice is very low. Therefore, your focus should be on creating proper practicing habits.

Sounds simple…  However, you must realize that it will take 21 days to create a new habit.  With this knowledge, we can understand two important ideas.  First, you will probably have challenges with sticking to your habit for the first 21 days, and it will take brute force to make yourself practice.  Second, making yourself practice will get dramatically easier after 21 days, because at that point, the habit is set.


Understand Your Practicing Goals

One of the biggest problems that I face with my private students is the fact that they practice mindlessly. They sit down and just play random stuff and never accomplish anything. In fact, most people have no clear goals for their practicing, and because they lack goals, their practicing lacks effectiveness. When life is busy and you are ineffective at your practicing, it’s almost better to watch TV, because you are just wasting your time.

Goal setting is one of the things that differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful.  Why do I know that? Simply, successful people are successful, because they are effective in the things that they do.  By having clearly defined goals, you can put yourself in a position to avoid wasting time.  So, what are your goals?


Schedule Times for the Week

Studies have shown over and over again that setting daily goals is fairly ineffective. The reality is that things come up that seem urgent, and you can be derailed very easily. Also, it is really easy to put off a task until the next day when you think of only one day at a time.

By scheduling time to practice each week, it allows you to see a bigger picture. When preparing for an audition or recital, you can actually map out how and when you are going to prepare each item, and this ensures that you get everything done each week.  Even more importantly….by looking at the entire week, you can keep yourself accountable about the total practice time that you log.


Be Effective with the Time that You Do Have

When you practice, one of your goals should be to make every second count. The reason why great musicians are great is because they are more effective with how they spend their practice time. In fact, their greatness is rarely determined by the quantity of time that they practice. They simply spend more quality time.

You can find this simple fact in colleges and universities all over the world. There are students that will spend six to eight hours a day in a practice room and do not ever seem to improve, and there are others that will spend half the amount of time and make dramatic improvements. Don’t waste time doing stupid stuff!



I heard a really successful businessman say once that the difference between a doctor and a ditch digger is how they spend their time. Both people have the same twenty-four hours in a day, but one of them spends their time digging a hole making very little money while the other spends time healing people making lots of money. Remember, the time is there to practice…it’s just how you fill in the day that matters.

Have a mantra for your life:  “Thou shalt not fool thyself.”

Read the original publication here. 

Join the conversation